Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Oversimplification

There's a trend in today's theologizing that is starting to bother me a bit. We're  looking at God and the only lens we may use is his love. If something especially some traditionally held belief doesn't fit with our idea of love, we start to question it and start to downplay it because now we are uncertain of it. And this isn't necessarily a bad process. If we don't reevaluate our beliefs with some level of frequency, the tendency is to become dyed-in-the-wool dogmatics whose only anchor in faith is their unreasoning inflexibility.

But there's this niggling difficulty I have with the "only love" (and I have to include "only our understanding of love") view of God that we have. It's actually not what God says about himself. Moses asked God to show his glory and God's response was to proclaim his name. And what is the name of God?

“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”

Do you see what I see? This is not a "love only" God. In his very name he reminds us that he justly punishes the guilty. Is this a horrible thing? No. The mercy he extends to us is not mercy at all if our actions, nay our whole lives don't really deserve punishment. I think that these two facets of God's nature feed into each other beautifully. In fact the one makes sense in the context of the other. Yes, this is God speaking to Moses in the context of the Old Testament and yes, the fuller revelation comes in the person of Jesus. But this is still in my books, red letter text -- God talking about himself. And we ignore it at great risk. God is loving. God is just. In the past, the church could be accused of oversimplifying on the just side. But don't let's commit the opposite error.

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